Methods and tools

Would masking the smell of ripening paddy-fields help mitigate human–elephant conflict in Sri Lanka?

Charles Santiapillaia1 c1 and Bruce Reada2

a1 Department of Zoology, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.

a2 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation, Vienna, Virginia, USA


Despite its small size and high human population Sri Lanka is home to c. 4,400 wild Asian elephants Elephas maximus. Human–elephant conflict around agriculture is severe, with > 100 elephants and c. 50 people killed annually. Elephants appear to be able to time their raiding of paddy-fields in Sri Lanka with the harvesting of the rice, as if they are responding to an olfactory trigger. It is the elephant’s sophisticated chemosensory system that may hold the key to resolving human–elephant conflict. Research is required to determine the odours associated with the various development stages of rice, using gas chromatography, and to find a suitable substance that could be used to mask the specific odour of ripening rice. The use of chemosensory-based methods, if feasible, will not be a universal panacea for the mitigation of human–elephant conflict but, in combination with other methods, could reduce conflict and make it easier for farmers to harvest their crops in safety. Such a combination of methods could be useful across the range of both Asian and African elephants.

(Received October 27 2009)

(Reviewed January 08 2010)

(Accepted February 06 2010)


c1 Department of Zoology, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. E-mail charlessantiapillai@gmail.com